WASHINGTON — Celebrity chef Rachael Ray says she has a big mouth. And she used it Tuesday to ask lawmakers for more money to improve school lunches.
Ray's whirlwind one-day tour included a visit to a Washington elementary school where she talked to kids about how they can make better food choices and meetings with several members of Congress. She is also visiting the White House to take a peek at first lady Michelle Obama's kitchen garden.
"It's nice to see that everyone can have a voice here," Ray said between meetings. "It's a little Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."
The legislation that Ray is pushing would direct the Agriculture Department to create new standards for all foods in schools, including vending machine items, to give students healthier meal options. The legislation would spend $4.5 billion over 10 years on nutrition programs – less than half of what President Barack Obama recommended in his budget.
Ray said she is asking lawmakers to find more money for the bill to help deal with health costs caused by obesity.
"Find the money now and get it done or you are going to be part of sinking our ship down the line," Ray said she told members of Congress.
The famous author and talk show host is only one of many celebrity chefs who are urging Washington to focus more on improving childhood nutrition. California chef Alice Waters has long urged lawmakers to encourage better eating and British chef Jamie Oliver recently campaigned for the same in his network television show "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution."
Ray toured the elementary school with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat who is on the Senate Agriculture Committee and has also pushed for more money for the bill. She said Ray can help bring awareness to the effort because of her popularity and expertise in cooking healthy, nutritious meals.
"She's someone who people can understand and follow," Gillibrand said.
Ray, who has started a charity called Yum-o! to raise money to teach kids healthy eating, said she might not be done with lobbying. At least one member asked her to come back.
"Talk loud and hard and until they shut you up," she said.